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Question:
My wife and I seem to always be annoyed or irritated with each other, just on the edge of arguing or getting mad all time. We love each other, and divorce is not an option (or something we want) as Christians. Any advice on how to change this part of our relationship?

Answer:

I’m happy to hear someone say that “divorce is not an option”. This should be the norm for Christians, but sadly, is not. Having a foundation of lifelong commitment puts you in a good position to make some changes in your relationship that will help with these feelings you are having towards each other.

There is truth in the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”. People are people. We get on each other’s nerves. Living with someone all the time gives plenty of opportunity for it.

Half the reason for being irritated is justified (fleshly speaking) in that the other person can be thoughtless, unkind, inattentive, selfish, impatient, sloppy, lazy, etc. The other half of the reason is our own fault: I am impatient, I am selfish, I am easily irritated, I am looking out for my own interests first. Put the two halves together, and you are experiencing something that is very common in marriage and eventually probably happens to almost all of us: we find ourselves impatient and with a low level, underlying “annoyed” feeling towards our spouse.

We cannot change the other person directly, only ourselves. I say “directly” because I believe that INDIRECTLY we can influence our spouse to change simply by the change that occurs in us.

So, if you want your spouse to stop being irritable, you stop. If you want your spouse to stop being easily annoyed, you stop. If you want your spouse to be loving, patient and kind, YOU be loving, patient and kind. If you want your spouse to be affectionate, complimentary, encouraging and happy, YOU BE ALL THOSE THINGS FIRST.

As humans, our relationships and spiritual life fall prey to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: things deteriorate unless some outside organizing or improving power reverses the deterioration (I know that’s a loose definition, but appropriate for this discussion).

Since we are sinful human beings, our spiritual life and Christian walk will deteriorate if we can not actively working to improve it. As well, our marriages and relationships will likewise degrade if we aren’t actively seeking to improve and strengthen them.

For our marriages to go bad, we don’t have to do a thing. They will go sour all by themselves. We can help the deterioration to occur faster by our negative behavior, but even in “neutral” things will decline in quality.

Our marriages (or any relationship for that matter) are a series of repeating and clearly defined CYCLES… either good or bad. Whatever type of cycle we are in tends to feed itself. Let me explain.

If you are impatient and sarcastic, it will cause your spouse to have hard feelings, bringing out similar bad behavior. Their increased level of a negativity will only cause you to sink further into destructive attitudes and behavior, in turn causing them to be worse. And round and round it goes. It will not stop until one or both spouses choose to change the cycle.

A negative cycle in a marriage tends to get started and become a “problem” before either spouse even recognizes that it is occuring.

A positive cycle on the other hand, usually is something that has to be a willful, purposeful choice by both parties. We have no problems being negative. We have to work at being positive.

My advice?

  1. Determine that you will begin a “positive” cycle in your relationship
  2. Change yourself regardless of what your spouse does
  3. SAY and DO those things that you would normally say and do when your FEELINGS of “being madly in love” are present. In other words, regardless of how you FEEL, say loving things, do loving things, talk affectionately, be romantic… ACT (words and actions) like you are madly in love and that your spouse is the most wonderful, patient, caring, loving person on the planet and you cannot stand to be apart from them one more minute.

    (Act? Isn’t that dishonest? NO!!! When you first fall in love with someone, it’s because both of you choose to ACT in such a way that causes the other person to fall in love. Magically, tragically and stupidly, AFTER the wedding, we reverse the process and declare that we must FIRST feel like we are in love BEFORE we will act in such a way as to create an atmosphere of “falling in love”)
  4. Make sure that you are both working on your spiritual lives, individually and as a couple, or it’s going to be next to impossible to create any lasting positive change
  5. Pray together; the percentage is sky high that couples who pray together are happier, and dramatically FAR less likely to divorce.

A positive cycle feeds on itself just like a negative cycle. In my experience, positive cycles actually intensify and repair a relationship FASTER than a negative cycle tears it down.

Say words, choose behavior and plan things that will cause your spouse to feel good, feel loved and cause them to “fall in love” with you. It may take them a little while to “figure out what’s going on”, but give it time, be consistent and don’t give up. In a typical relationship, your spouse will begin to warm up to this new development and the “seeds of love” you are planting will soon begin to grow.

Here are a few things I try to say and do for my wife on a regular basis, daily if I’m on the ball (though we have our “negative cycles” too!):

  • Of course, say “I love you” many times a day
  • Say “I’m sorry” often and quickly; and mean it!
  • I tell her that she is beautiful and that I’m physically attracted to her
  • I tell her that I’m happy; it’s very important for your spouse to know that you have a happy life because they realize they are big part of that
  • I tell her specifically that I’m happy to be married TO HER, and that I wouldn’t want life any other way
  • I tell her that I’m glad we are married, and that I can’t imagine my life without her
  • I tell her that she means the whole world to me and that there is no one else I would rather be with

Now, given the stresses of life, do I always FEEL, I mean literally FEEL this way? Of course not. I get sick, I get tired, I get too busy, I get overwhelmed some times. Oh yeah, and sometimes I’m selfish and not very thoughtful. But regardless of how I FEEL, I know all these things are still true, so I say them even if my feelings don’t happen to be all ooey-gooey at the moment.

By saying these things, I cultivate the emotions and so I end up actually feeling this way even if I didn’t start out with them. When I do NOT have these feelings, it becomes even more important to say them so that it creates an atmosphere that will rekindle them.

It is my very strong personal opinion, that married couples can quickly and definitively get out of a period of frustration and irritability by choosing to say and do those things that they would do if they were in that “falling madly in love” period of their relationship.

Try it and see if you don’t see a big difference quickly (once your spouse gets over the shock!).

Readers, what do you think? What are some ways that married couples can improve the atmosphere between them? Put your thoughts on the message boards. Go here…

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